The Charleston Battery extended their unbeaten streak to four games Saturday night with a 1-1 draw with North Carolina FC at WakeMed Soccer Park. The match was the first meeting between the regional rivals since 2010.
NCFC came out on the front foot, immediately asking questions of the Battery defense and goalkeeper Joe Kuzminsky. Austin da Luz forced Kuzminsky into his first save in the 12th minute with a great effort from 50-yards out. Da Luz spotted Kuzminsky off his line and attempted to chip him from distance, but the 6-4 goalkeeper recovered well and tipped the shot over the bar.
After the early flurry of chances, Charleston settled into their defensive shape and grew into the game. Both sides had good spells of possession after the opening 20 minutes, but neither were able to break the deadlock.
Coming out of the halftime break, Battery Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser moved his side’s line of pressure up, searching for a go ahead goal. The adjustment paid off in the 63rd minute when Kotaro Higashi forced a turnover at the top of NCFC’s penalty area as the hosts tried to play their way out of the back.
Following Higashi’s tackle, the ball fell kindly to Tah Brian Anunga who quickly played Ataulla Guerra at the top of the box. Guerra turned, created space, and fired a low shot into the bottom corner of Alex Tambakis’ goal to put the Battery ahead. The goal was Guerra’s league-leading ninth in seventeen games.
After the opening goal, NCFC turned up the pressure in search of an equalizer. The game became stretched and NCFC advanced deep into their attacking half consistently, as the Battery countered and created chances of their own.
The hosts finally broke through in the 83rd minute by way of Daniel Rios. Nelson Blanco received the ball on the left flank and drove towards the endline before serving a low cross into the six yard box. Rios, who was making a near post run, got a slight touch on Blanco’s pass to redirect it past Kuzminsky, matching Guerra’s nine goals on the season.
Each side had opportunities to steal three points in the final ten minutes, but neither could convert. Guerra came within inches of his tenth goal and the Battery’s seventh win of the season in the 93rd minute. The ball fell to him off of a Gordon Wild free kick, but his half volley went just wide of Tambakis’ far post.
A wild scramble in Kuzminsky's six yard box in the seventh minute of stoppage time almost left the Battery with nothing to show from the match, but the Charleston defense was ultimately able to clear the danger and the game ended in a draw.
Following the trip to Cary, the Battery will return to Charleston for back-to-back home matches. They’ll take on Indy Eleven on Wednesday, July 11 before playing host to reigning USL Champions Louisville City FC on Saturday, July 14.
CHARLESTON: Joe Kuzminsky; Skylar Thomas (Leland Archer, 61), Taylor Mueller, Neveal Hackshaw; O’Brian Woodbine (yellow card, 69; Jay Bolt, 74), Angelo Kelly, Tah Brian Anunga, Jarad van Schaik, Nico Rittmeyer (Gordon Wild, 89) Kotaro Higashi, Ataulla Guerra (goal, 63)
Substitutes: Odisnel Cooper, Ryan Arambula, Victor Mansaray, Patrick Oronkwo
NORTH CAROLINA: Alex Tambakis; DJ Taylor, Aaron Guillen (yellow card, 95), Connor Tobin, Steven Miller; Austin da Luz (Tiyi Shipalane, 55), Graham Smith, Dre Fortune (Nelson Blanco, 76), Kyle Bekker; Daniel Rios (goal, 82), Marios Lomis (Donovan Ewolo, 90)
Substitutes: Austin Guerrero, Michael Harrington, Marcel Kandziora, Cameron Steel